Friday, July 01, 2005


Entry #2

Bosun killed XXXXXXXX today, the seventh day of our journey. The blood is still warm. Some of it is on me. I saw the hopeless look on XXXXXXXX’s face and, perversely, I smiled—because it was not me. It was not me. I was not about to die.

Bosun stood over XXXXXXXX, Bosun a bald-headed bullet of a man, squat and dangerous, dancing around XXXXXXXX as he worked himself into a rage. XXXXXXXX a thin, pale spectre kneeling in the dull yellow grass, visibly shaking, pleading in a whispery rasp. The sun cast Bosun’s shadow over XXXXXXXX as Bosun put the gun to his head. Bosun looked up at Danzler Shard, who stood in judgment. Danzler nodded. Bosun laughed—a gutteral sound—and pulled the trigger. The click of an empty chamber. XXXXXXXX’s face relaxed into an almost psychotic calm, sweat dripping off his chin, his mouth wide in an insane grin. “You’re a sick fuck, Danzler,” he said in a tired voice. “You are sick, sick, sick.”

Danzler nodded. Bosun fired again. This time XXXXXXXX’s brains splattered all over the sparse grass. He toppled, fell, was no more. Abruptly. Ash observed dispassionately from one side, not a tremor of reaction in her pale blue eyes. Gransvoort, standing next to her, shuddered once, lit a cigarette and turned his phlegmatic gaze toward the horizon.

“Should be going now, don’t you think?” Gransvoort said.

Danzler said, “Bury him. And let it be a lesson. I’ll be putting a bullet in all of you before I let you bring me down. Carelessness!” Bosun spit on XXXXXXXX’s cooling corpse. “Remember to put his eyes out." And walked away.

In death, XXXXXXXX had become Danzler’s mirror, for what remained of his face held no expression at all.

I stared across that almost-desert, the sky so blue it burns more brightly than any sun, and realized for the first time that I might die out here, whether by Danzler’s will and Bosun’s hand or some other, less natural, cause.

This thought has convinced me to set down some sort of rough running chronicle of our journey. I don’t want to die like my father—with my life not yet recorded, in essence unlived.

This journal was my father’s. He carried it around with him all the time, until the pages curled and the leather became worn. He meant, like his father before him, to write his memoirs. It had always seem odd to me that the day he disappeared from my life, he left the journal at home. For this reason alone, I've decided to write in it. My grandfather’s memoir is a weighty thing and I won't attempt its profundity, but at least these pages won't be blank. Should I never return to A______, there is a chance Katherine will know what happened, that her imagination won't harm her, as mine harms me now. (Katherine—if I should be so struck as to address these entries directly to you, I would spend my time composing only love letters—and apologies: the guilt that I did not find some way to elude my kidnappers.)


Entry #5

There are other reasons not to speak of XXXXXXXX, or of anything: this wretched land we travel through, which cannot decide if it is scrub or desert. For all my accumulated knowledge about the world from hoplessly out-of-date books, I did not know that the flooding of A may simply be a symptom of some greater disease: the river to the north of the city has completely dried out. All that remains to mark the corpse of its course are the already-eroding outlines of its banks, the myriad skeletons of fish, picked clean of flesh, and those few pockets of water—never deep or wide—in which ever more desperate river creatures swim and crawl as the noose closes in on them. Otters, muskrats, turtles, snakes, salamanders, crocdiliads, puffer frogs: all consigned to gradual extinction if they cannot travel South. The smell of death is as pervasive as a carnal house. Most horrible of all: in the deepest, ravine-like portions of the former river, lie the enormous gleaming white beaks of dead freshwater squid, always permeated by an acrid, almost medicinal smell evident even through our filters. These beaks stand as tall as a man—memorials to commemorate their own passing. Bosun likes to stand between those jaws and pose for us.

It was against this backdrop that we today came into contact with other travelers for the first time. Danzler had just listened in on the airwaves again with the tiny radio in his pack and, satisfied with whatever he heard, decided we would continue on our present northwesterly course for another day.

At first this other party was just a smudge of black on a smudgeless, much-too-precise horizon littered with squid parts and uneven hills. Then the black coalesced into five mules carrying bodies behind them on wooden rafts, led by five dessicated, toothless old men who wore black Menite robes and in whose obsidian smoothness, skin seamed and riven and tan, I recognized the streamlined beauty of death.

“Priests!” Danzler spat.

“Maybe,” Gransvoort said.

“We hope,” Ash said.

Bosun said nothing but pointed his gun at them. Who could say what permutations religions had undergone in this place? Truffidians might be transformed into Manziists.

Danzler laughed at the five men, at the bodies wrapped in rags that followed behind, dried out by the arid climate so that they all possessed a certain similarity, a new equality created by death.

As we passed them, they seemed oblivious to our presence—to them we were no doubt just another patrol encountered, which would either kill them or let them continue on their strange journey.

Danzler hailed them and asked them where they came from, where they were going. The five men brought their mules to a halt. They stared at Danzler, their mouths set in permanent frowns. For a moment I thought that they too had been overtaken by XXXXXXXX’s curse. But they were just men driven to an extremity of silence by the burden of their endless task, their continual navigation of the wastelands with the barges of the dead. Still, their ceaseless appraisal of us, the way their eyes took us in and evaluated us made me uneasy.

The rider of the first mule was the leader and he said to Danzler, “We have come from Zamilon.”

Gransvoort snorted with laughter for no apparent reason and Ash met his gaze and snickered, as if someone had lost or won a bet.

“What did you find in Zamilon?” Danzler asked.

The priest turned to his fellows. They laughed, a dry, cruel laughter, like the wind that blows across these hills. He said, “We found them,” and gestured to the wrapped up corpses.

“Already dead?” Danzler asked.

“There’s dead and then there’s dead,” said the priest.

Gransvoort snorted more loudly. For some reason he found this macabre little troupe of priests funny.

Danzler ignored Gransvoort and the priest, said, “Where are you headed?”

The priest smiled but did not reply. He kicked his mule and the five of them started forward once again, headed somewhere, I fear, incomprehensible to any of us.

{Katherine: I would have given one of them a letter to give to you, but Danzler stopped me, took away the letter. He said any communication would betray us to our enemies, but there was nothing in the letter that would have done that. There was nothing in the letter but me.)


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